Listening to a favourite song seems to trigger a common pattern of brain activity, regardless of genre, a small study in Scientific Reports suggests. The findings may explain why different people describe similar emotional feelings and memory responses when listening to their favourite piece of music, whether it is something by Beethoven or Eminem.
Music preferences are highly individualised and different music types can vary substantially in their melodic and harmonic features, and rhythmic complexity. However, when listening to preferred music, people often report the same response - experiencing personal thoughts and memories.
To understand why people have comparable experiences, Jonathan Burdette and colleagues evaluated differences in functional brain networks (using functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, data) in 21 people when listening to different types of music, including rock, rap, and classical. They identify consistent patterns of brain connectivity associated with song preference. When listening to their self-reported favourite song, participants displayed increased connectivity in a brain circuit associated with internally focused thoughts and showed altered connectivity between auditory brain regions and areas responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.
The findings provide a glimpse into the neural activity that underlies the emotional and cognitive states that are associated with listening to preferred and favourite music.
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